Interview: Jamie Lin Wilson on Collaborating, Songwriting, and Touring With Kids

Interviews

Americana singer-songwriter and proud Texan Jamie Lin Wilson had a banner 2018, which included the release of a fantastic new album, Jumping Over Rocks, which appeared in the Top 10 of 2018 Americana Highway’s Best Album Readers’ Vote. She also had a chance to tour with her good friends in American Aquarium. And, best of all, she gave birth to her fourth child with husband Roy. I had the chance to see the last show of that tour in early January at the Bluebird Theater in Denver, where her littlest was prominently (and sleepily) in attendance. Shortly after, I had the privilege speaking with her about songwriting, collaborating, being a musician in 2019, and touring while parenting.

photo by David Nowels

 

Americana Highways: I took in your Denver show a couple of weeks ago. I saw your youngest was there. What’s it like touring with kids?

Jamie Lin Wilson: This is my fourth go-’round with having an infant on the road. Honestly, I’ll like to tell you what it’s like, but it’s all different. Each child has been different, touring with them. The basis is, I get off work at midnight, 1am, then the baby wakes up! I don’t get a whole lot of sleep! But it’s fun. It’s challenging. It makes me make sure that all of my decisions are deliberate, because it’s not easy to just go out on the road with a baby. Sometimes the baby gets sick. Then you start questioning all of your parenting choices. But it really does make me go, “Well, OK, every gig has to be worth it.” I’m not gonna just go play some show that nobody’s gonna be there, or it’s not gonna be a great gig. It makes me make better choices, I think.

AH: Everybody in Denver was very much into that show, which was a lot of fun.

JLW: Yeah, that venue, I’ve been wanting to play for a really long time. So it was really cool to get to be in there. And the baby just got to hang out upstairs in that balcony that whole time.

AH: I saw him just socked out the entire time under headsets, which was fun to see!

JLW: That was one of the only shows on that run he got to come to. If it was a super-packed room, and there’s no green room, then that’s not fun, and he’d rather be in a hotel room. The sound was so great in there, there was room for him – it makes it easier for the baby to be there at the show.

AH: Listening to some of the music on the new album, “The Being Gone” feels like it could be about any relationship, but is it also about what you’re leaving home, for you personally?

JLW: Yeah, that’s definitely a very personal song – probably one of the most autobiographical ones on the record. That was purely from being out on the road and just going, “I missed a baseball game, and I’m having to arrange people picking up my kids from school to take them to gymnastics, and I’m missing…dinner, dinner, just missing bedtime, just missing all of the things.” And then thinking, was this show worth it? Was this experience worth it, missing THAT experience? And it’s hard on a marriage, obviously. Roy and I have been married for 14 years now, and sometimes I call home, and he doesn’t want to to call home! Because it’s late, and I’m having fun, and he’s trying to go to sleep, or he’s trying to make supper whenever I’m distracting the kids. Or he’s trying to put the kids to bed, and I call and say, “Can I talk to ‘em real quick?” and he’s like, “No! Don’t!” Like, “you’re messing up our routine!” And that makes me sad, because a lot of times, whenever I’m gone, our schedules don’t line up. There are some times when I go two or three days without talking to the kids at all. Because whenever I call, because I’m waking up, they’re getting in the truck to go to school, and it’s, “everybody, shoes on, lunches,” and they can’t talk to me then. And then, whenever they get home from school, I’m at soundcheck. And then, when I’m done with soundcheck, they’re getting ready to go to bed. Sometimes, it just doesn’t line up, and I don’t get to talk to them. Whenever I wrote that song, that’s when I was feeling it.

AH: It shows. It’s relatable to someone like me, who’s single with no kids. Because we’ve all been there and missed something. But it obviously comes from a very special place from you.

JLW: I’m glad that it’s relatable to somebody in a different situation, because sometimes you write songs and go, “This song is so specific to me, that nobody will ever relate to it at all!” But it’s therapy, and I have to write it. But, in my experience, I have found that, sometimes, the most specific songs are the ones that end up being the most universal, also.

AH: You and American Aquarium shared quite a bit of stage time (in Denver). To me, it’s very generous on both your parts. How does that come about?

JLW: We have kind of a little scene of friends – it’s Turnpike (Troubadours), American Aquarium, Courtney Patton, Jason Eady, John Fullbright – there’s this little Texas/Oklahoma/southern kind of music scene that we all are just really good friends. We end up collaborating a lot. We all sing on each other’s records and write together and just try to collaborate as much as possible. I sang on American Aquarium’s album [Things Change] – I do all the girl harmonies on it. We’ve been trying to play gigs together for a really long time, and it kind of just now came together. I had never met a few of those guys in that band until December, until we started doing some shows together. After the first show, the drummer came up, and was like, “If you need me to play drums with you, I’m down.” It would be a weird duo show with just me and a drummer, so if we can get the other guys on board. And by the second run [of tour dates], the steel player was like, “I’ll play with you the whole show, because I learned those parts on your record.” So, that started happening, and then the other guys were like, “We want to play, too!” So I just ended up sending them four songs and going, “Cool, let’s close the show with these songs.” Sometimes, you come across those musicians who just want to jam. They liked it, and they liked the songs, so I was lucky in that regard – they kind of volunteered for that. We all went to the same festival [The MusicFest at Steamboat] after that Denver show, and they ended up playing my whole set with me, the whole band. And I just like to sing with everybody, so if anybody says, “Hey, will you learn this song?” I’ll jump up and sing it, because I think that’s what makes shows cool sometimes, for people to collaborate on shows like that. I like to see that when I go see a show, see guest appearances or whatever, so I try to keep that in mind, and I’m always game to jump up and sing whatever with anybody, anytime, because I know that makes for a cool experience that you might not get at another show.

AH: You mentioned the Steamboat MusicFest [http://themusicfest.com/home/]. It looks like you do that fairly often.

JLW: It’s an interesting festival, where this company from Texas, Dickson Productions, makes this festival up there. And then, basically, 4,000 Texans go to Steamboat for a week! They come from other states, too, but it’s mainly a bunch of Texans. And there’s 50-something bands that play. And this is, I think, their 21st year – it’s gotten way bigger in the last 10 or 15. This year was my 12th year to go. It’s just kind of a little trek that everybody makes once a year. So that week and the week after in Denver, you’ll see a whole bunch of Texas bands coming through trying to rout there and back, to make a little bit of money on the front end or back end. But it’s pretty cool. They turn hotel ballrooms and conference rooms into listening rooms. And then they set up this tent, and set up a stage in there, and the tent hold 2,500 people. And then a whole bunch of Texans in cowboy boots and hats slip on the ice for a week. And then we all go home!

AH: The Dixie Chicks tribute up there at Steamboat, what inspired that? Other than it being the Dixie Chicks?

JLW: Every year there at that festival, they have a band that will completely re-make a record. So I had this idea that me and these two other girls, Courtney Patton and Kaitlin Butts, could re-do Wide Open Spaces, because this is the 20th anniversary of it – it was 1998. And then we realized that Fly was 1999, so both of them were 20 years. And then we just went, “Let’s just make it a Dixie Chicks hit show.” And we pitched it to John Dickson, the promoter, and he was all about it. We started planning this little Dixie Chicks Tribute Show, just for fun. Like I was saying before, those collaboration-type things, this festival in particular is kind of know for that, where we all go, “Who can play in my band this week?” And we’ll see who we can gather, because there are so many of us up there, and we’re all friends. We go, “Hey, you wanna come play fiddle? You wanna come sing with me? My show’s at this time.” And everyone just shows up and jumps on stage. But they like to do these specialty shows there. It’s one of the things that gets people to go to that festival in particular. So we had that thought and that idea. And we made it happen. And, man – talk about a daunting task! Somebody called it ambitious, and that’s a great word, because those songs are hard, they’re complicated! They seem so easy, and then you get to learning them, with the different chord structures and the harmonies. The measures are all off, and the weird beats. We’re like, “I didn’t realize this was so hard to play!” But we did 17 of ‘em, and we pulled it off. I’m not going to say that we played them all perfectly, but we definitely practiced enough to be able to pull it off, and I was really proud of that.

AH: I think people underestimate how much planning and practice goes into it. You’re not just going out there on stage and tossing it off. It’s important to all of you to get it right.

JLW: Yeah, and it’s a different thing if it’s a new song if one of us wrote that nobody knows. We can screw that up all day and nobody will know the difference! But whenever you go and play basically the world’s sing-alongs from the 90s, everybody knows every single word to all of those songs, including the licks, including the extra little “oohs,” so that was more intimidating to go, “Oh, wow, we have to nail all of this, all these little inflections and stuff.” We did our best, and it was really fun to learn those, because whenever you have to learn somebody’s catalog like that, it makes you a better writer, because now I know their tricks, and I can steal them!

AH: Other than yourself, whom should we be listening to? Who’s new, or people aren’t paying enough attention to?

JLW: Courtney Patton. She’s my best friend, so I’m a little biased. She’s fantastic. Her writing is really from the heart. She’s great, and I wish that everybody would pay attention to her.

Jason Eady. He put out a great record last year [I Travel On}.

Mike and the Moonpies. They’re on my mind, because I’m playing with them this weekend. They’re really honky-tonk, and really, really great

Adam Hood put out a really great record this past year [Somewhere in Between].

Dalton Domino.

John Baumann. He actually just finished recording a record. That’ll probably come out later this year. He’s got a couple records out. He’s a really, really great new writer, and he’s funny.

AH: It seems that your career has spanned enough time where you’ve seen it go from selling music to selling the show…

JLW: Yes, and selling merchandise! I make that joke all the time, but it’s not really a joke, it’s truth! We’re not in the music business anymore, because nobody buys music. We’re in the merchandise business and the show business. It’s weird, I saw somebody say something one time – “a CD is kind of like a fashion show – here’s what we can offer, now come to this other thing and give us your money in this other way!” You make music, and then it’s free. And we’re all kind of scrambling, going, “How do do we do this now – offer all these other things?”

AH: I would say, 10 years ago, I probably never was able to meet artists at a show. And now it’s almost all the time. It’s a great time to be a music fan, but it’s a tough time to be in the business.

JLW: It’s a little bit of a Catch-22, this business that we’re in. Most of us start writing songs, because we really don’t know how to communicate very well, other than that. The only way I can say it is in this song, so I’m just going to write this song. And then, the only way for us to make anything out of that is to go and stand in front of a bunch of people and play it. We’re introverts at heart, and then we go and have to stand in front of a whole bunch of people and bare our souls. Well, we used to be able to just go and do that, and then you get used to the stage idea – there’s kind of this invisible line where we can stand up there and do the thing, and we get used to that. But now, we have to get used to actually going out there and actually talking to everybody, face to face. And, since they know our music, they think they know us. So then they get closer and closer, and talk longer and longer. And I’m lucky – I have the type of personality where I can kind of handle that, but I know a lot of people who cannot. But it helps so much to go to the merch table and go out and visit with people – it really does help a lot. And I like to do it. It’s nice for me to be able thank people and show them that that really matters to me. Whenever you stand up there and you hear those people that are talking through your set, or not paying attention, or being disrespectful, I always have to make myself go, “But all of these other people that are in here, they got babysitters, they got dressed, they got out of their house, on sometimes a weeknight, and then they paid money. And they came to hear me sing songs.” That’s all a lot of effort, and I understand that effort. I really do appreciate being able to tell them, “I understand what it takes to get out of your house, and thank you for spending your Wednesday night with me, here.” Because that’s important to keep everything going.

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